Pointing out inconsistencies between Chavez’s rhetoric and his government’s actions is like shooting fish in a barrel. Still, sometimes it’s fun to shoot fish in a barrel.
Five years ago, Chavez built his economic vision around an angry diatribe against surreptitious attempts to privatize the nation’s oil industry.
Today, the Chavez government surreptitiously sells off Venezuelan oil assets abroad under cover of darkness, with no public consultation or debate whatsoever.
Five years ago, Chavez roused crowds by denouncing the opaque business practices and outright corruption in the public oil sector.
Today, Chavez agrees a no-tender, one-on-one sell-off of a key state oil asset to none other than a Russian oligarch-led conglomerate, Alpha, which initially made its billions by bribing Russian officials to walk away with billions in dollars in assets paid at a tiny fraction of their value – the infamous 90s sweetheart privatization deals.
Five years ago, Chavez laid out a vision of radical democracy, grassroot people power, with direct voters’ participation in key decisions.
Today, Chavez makes every key government decision in isolation, and his government is fighting tooth and nail against a very broad-based call for a recall vote, one of the very people-power reforms he championed as recently as two years ago.
Five years ago, the government denounced the economic enslavement of the foreign debt burden, and started to only borrow in bolivars, instead of going to international credit markets to borrow dollars. Economists of every stripe warned that they would soon tap out Venezuela’s banks, crowding out local borrowers, and would end up being forced to borrow larger and larger sums of shorter and shorter term bonds at higher and higher interest rates from more and more exposed banks.
Today, the government implicitly admits that the critics were right all along. The government announces, finally, a $1 billion bond placement in New York, as part of a massive restructuring plan to swap bolivar denominated bonds with long term dollar denominated bonds – i.e., what critics had demanded all along. As usual, it’s too late: the local debt has already more than sextupled in bolivar terms, and tripled in dollar terms, leaving the nation many millions of dollars worse off than it would be if the government had followed independent advice all along. And the new dollar bonds are no bed of roses: yielding over 10% (in $$$! – country-risk, is the relevant euphemism) the bonds are a massively expensive way for Venezuela to borrow…though still less suicidally non-sustainable than the crazy borrow-only-in-bolivars strategy.
Five years ago, Chavez slammed the old regime for the judicial “tribus” and the absence of truly independent legal institutions.
Today, the government unilaterally shuts down politically-uncomfortable apellate courts, creating a massive constitutional vacuum, and now proposes, through a plainly illegal maneouver, to pack the Supreme Tribunal with 10-12 additional (Chavista) judges, to ensure the Tribunal’s tractability. Coming at the political moment it comes, the move is widely feared by the opposition who see it as part of a broader plan to strike down the recall referendum petition through a court decision with the Made in Miraflores seal.
And, the jewel:
Five years ago, Chavez was still celebrating his coup-plotting days, spending successive February 4ths – the anniversary of his bloody attempted coup in 1992 – as though they were national holidays. After April 2002, and in a truly Orwellian inversion, he switches and starts calling ALL of his opponents – from the catholic church to the far right to the far left to the far center – “golpistas”, coup plotters, as the ultimate political epithet.
Today, having established the word coup-plotter as the worst political insult, and after having repeatedly grumbled about the U.S.’s supposed role in the April 11th coup – what that role might have been was, of course, never specified – reports emerge that the US believes Chavez directly financed the protests that brought down president Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia – in fact, financing a coup!
So is this a government of the left, the right, or what? Is that even a meaningful question when you’re faced with this kind of absurdist excess?
As Manuel Caballero once said, Chavez is neither a communist, nor a leninist, nor an anarchist nor a trotskyite nor a castrista nor a fascist nor a reactionary nor a militarist; Chavez is a chavista.